Darsh Seneviratne Documents Sri Lanka’s Ever Changing Landscape

“Being raised by a Sri Lankan father meant pieces of his culture were scattered throughout our home and daily life. I remember hearing the Sinhalese news blaring away on the radio every Sunday morning, eating salmon curry and hoppers at my grandmother’s apartment, and cheering for the Sri Lankan cricket team when they toured Australia. I can vividly recall seeing my parents hunched over the radio on Boxing Day in 2004, as the reporter detailed the destruction of the tsunamis that devastated coastlines of Indonesia, India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. I still hear radio reports of a bomb going off in residential Colombo, no more than twenty miles away from where we were staying on a visit in 2007.

Photography By Darsh Seneviratne
Words By Darsh Seneviratne

It has been strange but intriguing to watch how all these parts of my upbringing are now weaving their way into my everyday interactions in the cultural climate of Australia. As a child having hoppers and seeni sambol for breakfast on special occasions; nowadays you can find an almost identical meal on the streets of Glebe in inner-city Sydney. The radio used to blare Sinhalese news of bombings carried out in the capital of Colombo, the same city where Australian billionaire businessman James Packer attempted to build a casino. Friends are now flying out to the east coast and raving about the surf at Arugambay, a popular tourist destination that was part of a long stretch of coastline devastated by the Boxing Day tsunamis.”

Drawing inspiration from William Christenberry’s musings of rural Alabama and Lyndal Iron’s raw documentation of Sydney’s notorious Parramatta Road, Darsh Seneviratne’ series, ‘Paradise Fell’, aims to capture a portrait of a country struggling to define themselves in a post-war economic climate.

On his second visit to Sri Lanka, Darsh began a photographic exploration of the effects that the civil war and tsunami had on the landscape and its inhabitants. With an aim to visit wartorn Jaffna in the north, and surfing hotspot Trincomalee and Arugambay on the east, Darsh and his father retraced a route he had travelled with his family fifty years prior. “A number of areas we visited were quite sensitive: roofless, shells of houses with years of vegetation regrowth claiming back the structures; abandoned factories still manned by military checkpoints; parts of the city still inaccessible.”

In a way, Sri Lanka is the quintessential battler. Rebuilding a society, both physically and psychologically, after a twenty-six year civil war and a deadly tsunami that killed over thirty thousand people is no simple task. Add to that the exponential influx of tourism and the economic politics it brings, and you have a country struggling to focus on the necessities, neglecting their people, and failing to rebuild what was so violently taken away. Sri Lanka is going through a rapid development that is drastically altering the landscape and its inhabitants.